If you’re a reader who has spent any time browsing the Mystery/Thriller shelves of East End bookstores, you’re familiar with Nelson DeMille, author of nearly two dozen novels set everywhere from Long Island’s Gold Coast to Plum Island to Moscow and now, Cuba. The New York Times best-selling author’s newest novel, The Cuban Affair—on bookshelves now—not only ventures to a land as yet unexamined by DeMille’s pen, it also introduces a new character: Daniel “Mac” MacCormick, a U.S. Army veteran turned Key West fishing boat captain.
We talked with DeMille over the phone from his Garden City house recently to discuss the latest novel.
“To be quite honest,” DeMille’s quipped of his decision to introduce a new character, as opposed to further developing one of his popular, existing characters, “the characters were almost eligible for Social Security at this point.” Mac MacCormack, on the other hand, is only 35. He also notes that he’s switched publishers after 30-odd years and while most publishers welcome established characters—John Corey, main character of DeMille’s last handful of novels certainly fits that bill—the author says “I really wanted to start fresh.”
And so he got to work on a new character and a new novel. In October 2015 DeMille traveled to Cuba with a Yale Educational group—group travel being much easier in Cuba than traveling individually. As a matter of fact, in the novel, Mac is also travelling with a Yale Educational group as a cover for his mission. (No spoilers, we promise.) “He kind of followed my itinerary,” DeMille said, confessing that he did take some literary license. He’d already had his idea for the novel and what he thought the plot would be, but, he says, “I didn’t have the feelings of the country—you don’t have those feelings until you get your feet on the ground. I really believe you can’t be an armchair researcher. It’s so easy to do it with the internet, but you really have to go where the action is. Not only do you get a better feeling for the place but it also changes the plot sometimes.” He continued that, while in Cuba, he was always thinking of the book. “I couldn’t have written the book unless I went to Havana.”
Something that might surprise readers and other writers alike, especially in the digital age, is that DeMille does all of his writing in longhand, starting at about noon every day. “I don’t type,” he said. “I do all my writing in longhand on yellow legal pads with a number 1 pencil and I sit there as though I’m doing a huge term paper that’s late and I write.” And he writes and writes and writes “usually until 7 or 8 p.m.” Sometimes he writes even longer. “I have a lot of energy when I’m drinking coffee and writing and I can easily go until midnight and twice I’ve gone until dawn.” He admits the writing might not be great at three in the morning, but says it’s there, and that he can edit later.
As for his next novel, DeMille is already hard at work in the afternoons. “It’s set in the Hamptons and also the Gold Coast,” he says. “It’s a cross between a police procedural—like a John Corey novel—and The Gold Coast” and a welcome break from all the research he did for The Cuban Affair—Long Island is home, after all.
The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille is available now at your local bookstore. For more information on the author visit nelsondemille.net.